The bishops of the Church of England have published draft prayers for same-sex couples, which will be considered by the General Synod next month.
The prayers, which include thanksgiving, dedication, and a prayer for God's blessing, are part of a larger set of proposals in response to the Church’s six-year Living in Love and Faith process of “listening, learning, and discernment on questions of identity, sexuality, and marriage”.
In addition to the publication of the prayers, the bishops have also issued a public apology to LGBTQI+ people for the way in which the Church has rejected or excluded them.
The apology is included in a pastoral letter from the bishops, which also recognises the disagreement within the Church over same-sex marriage and proposes a way forward for the Church to move forward on the issue.
The bishops write: “We want to apologise for the ways in which the Church of England has treated LGBTQI+ people – both those who worship in our churches and those who do not.
“For the times we have rejected or excluded you, and those you love, we are deeply sorry.
“The occasions on which you have received a hostile and homophobic response in our churches are shameful and for this we repent.
“As we have listened, we have been told time and time again how we have failed LGBTQI+ people.
“We have not loved you as God loves you, and that is profoundly wrong. We affirm, publicly and unequivocally, that LGBTQI+ people are welcome and valued: we are all children of God.”
A report titled "Living in Love and Faith: A response from the Bishops of the Church of England about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage" outlines the bishops' proposals and recommends areas for further work.
Along with the report, the bishops have also published a book of draft worship resources entitled "Prayers of Love and Faith" which includes a variety of prayers and readings that can be used in a church service.
“This resource will represent a significant move that is intended as a loving and celebratory response to same-sex couples who are cherished and deeply valued by the Church,” the letter reads.
The bishops stress that the prayers will be optional and that the formal teaching of the Church of England on marriage as being between one man and one woman for life won’t change. They also acknowledge that there is a range of convictions held by the bishops on this issue and that they have not yet reached a consensus to propose a change in doctrine.
In a press conference the Archbishop of Canterbury said he will not personally perform any services of blessings for same-sex couples to not comprise his responsibility of unity in the Anglican Communion. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of York said he would, but got emotional while explaining the changes.
The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, who chaired the group that led the process of discernment and decision-making, said that the process has been a "unique exercise in listening and learning together".
She added: “I would like to thank all those who took part, sharing often deeply personal experiences, with great patience and courage.
“This has shown us vividly the diverse beliefs and hopes that are found among those who call the Church of England their spiritual home.
“We have taken all of those responses to heart and they have been vital in helping shape the proposals which we are putting forward today.”
Rt Rev Dr Steven Croft Bishop of Oxford, the most senior bishop in the Church of England to have called for a change in the Church of England’s doctrine to allow gay marriage said: “It is very good for us to be able to say today that the Church can now offer public services of blessing, but we know that we have further to go.
“I also look forward to the publication of new pastoral guidance in the coming months and confidently expect this will enable our clergy to order their relationships according to their own conscience and allow them the freedom to enter into same-sex civil marriage.”
However, the Church of England Evangelical Alliance (CEEC) has said the proposals are sending mixed messaging.
Helen Lamb, a member of the CEEC Working Group said: “We are being told on the one hand marriage is between one man and one woman and that is the doctrine, and on the other hand to bless and say that something is holy that God, in his word, says is not. I don’t see how both of those things can happen.
She added: “I fear they [bishops] will succeed in pleasing absolutely nobody…I suspect they are going to make themselves very unpopular with Christians, who will say we have always wanted to make everybody feel welcome. Church is the one place that anyone could turn up. It doesn’t operate for its members, it operates for the benefit of everybody and anyone is welcome, and I hope that they would enjoy that welcome in any church they walked into. Christian teaching calls us to something and actually God has called us to be his children and, once we are his children, to live out what we’re called to be.”
The bishops' proposals will be discussed in detail at the General Synod, which meets from 3rd-6th February.